Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frances Betty Provan (1911–1963)

by Rosemary Jennings

This article was published:

Frances Betty Provan (1911-1963), by unknown photographer

Frances Betty Provan (1911-1963), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P01262.023

Frances Betty Provan (1911-1963), naval officer and businesswoman, was born on 17 November 1911 at Spring Hill, Brisbane, second daughter of Queensland-born parents Donald McCallum Provan, bookseller, and his wife Frances Mary Walpole, née Boyd. Her mother was descended from the Walpole family in England. Frances was educated at Toowoomba, at the Glennie Preparatory School, Fairholme Presbyterian Girls' College, and the Glennie Memorial School. Margaret Brown, the headmistress of G.M.S., stressed moral behaviour and told her pupils: 'Remember, you are a Glennie Girl, and there is nothing a Glennie Girl cannot do'. After Frances's father died during her final year at school, she worked in turn as a trainee-teacher, nurse and governess. About 1939 she moved to Sydney. Five ft 6½ ins (169 cm) tall, with brown hair, large brown eyes, a fair complexion and classical features, she was a smart, slightly built, well-groomed young woman—a 'darling' and 'tremendous fun' according to her younger sister.

Believing war to be imminent, Provan began training with the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps which had been founded in Sydney by Florence McKenzie. By 1941 the Royal Australian Navy needed more wireless telegraphists. The availability of women who had learned these skills in the W.E.S.C. led to a decision to recruit twelve female telegraphists as the initial members of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service. Enlisting as a telegraphist on 28 April 1941, Provan was given the official number WR/1 and posted to H.M.A.S. Harman, the communications station in Canberra. She and her colleagues relayed messages to the fleet and maintained contact with many wireless-stations around the world. The number of female telegraphists increased rapidly, and women were recruited to serve in other branches of the navy. By 1945 there were 2590 Wrans working in shore establishments throughout Australia.

Promoted leading telegraphist (September 1941) and petty officer telegraphist (December 1942), Provan attended the first W.R.A.N.S. officers' training course at Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria. She was appointed third officer on 15 February 1943 and returned to Harman in August. In June 1945 she was posted as officer-in-charge of the only draft of Wrans to serve in an operational zone, in Darwin: her standards of behaviour and appearance led her contingent to be referred to as 'Miss Provan's Academy for Young Ladies'. She served briefly at bases in New South Wales and Queensland before being demobilized from the navy in October 1946 in Melbourne.

Miss Provan travelled to England where she was employed by a meat-importing firm. In the late 1950s her ability and competence won her the post of manager of the London office of Jackson's United Meat Co. Pty Ltd, a business based at Footscray, Melbourne. In 1963 she returned to Melbourne, met the firm's Australian directors and flew to Brisbane, planning to visit her mother. She died suddenly of heart disease on 21 June that year in a taxi en route from Eagle Farm to Camp Hill and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Curtis-Otter, W.R.A.N.S. (Syd, 1975)
  • A. Nelson, A History of HMAS Harman and its People (Canb, 1993)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Rosemary Jennings, 'Provan, Frances Betty (1911–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frances Betty Provan (1911-1963), by unknown photographer

Frances Betty Provan (1911-1963), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, P01262.023

Life Summary [details]


17 November, 1911
Spring Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


21 June, 1963 (aged 51)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.